Residents’ impassioned plea to save village amenities

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The depth of feeling and strength of opinion was overwhelmingly evident at an event last week when nearly 60 people made the case for the retention of all council facilities on Arran, including Brodick hall and the Arran Library.

The community engagement event, held in Brodick hall, is the first stage of a four-part process – held to national and international standards, according to council representatives – in gathering information and data to help decide the future role of libraries, halls and centres in communities throughout North Ayrshire, including all facilities on Arran.

Described as workshops and conversation cafes, the engagement event comprised of just three questions: Tell us what matters to you most? Why is the venue(s) important? Is there anything else you would like to say about the area and facilities?

Senior manager of participation and empowerment, Jim McHarg and two engagement and participation officers, Anne Marie Hunter and Pam Crosthwaite, after a brief introduction by Jim, invited the attendees – who were seated in small groups of about nine people – to discuss the three questions.

Unsurprisingly after an hour and a half of discussion the results from each table were remarkably similar. Chief among them was the fact that Brodick’s early years class operates out of the Brodick village hall, despite severe restrictions and inconvenience, including having to clear away the educational equipment in the premises every day, children having to share toilet facilities with the general public, and the other resultant complications from not having a fixed-purpose facility.

A speaker at one table said that any negative changes to the situation for the highly regarded and well-used facility would be disastrous for the children, parents and community. Speaking of the knock-on effects the closure or reduction in hours would have for the school, despite increases to school hours coming into effect in the near future, the discussion then extended to the facilities’ social benefits, outlining the invaluable contribution the village hall and library play in the lives of the elderly, infirm and social groups.

Another table described the hall as the heart of a vibrant community, a community asset that must remain to encourage sustainability, social well-being and for its tourism potential of encouraging visitors to the many events hosted at the hall.

Another speaker raised the subject of resilience, highlighting the role that the village hall played during the snowmageddon event of 2013 when Brodick hall was used as a meeting point for residents and a base for food distribution and communications.

While a question and answer session could not take place due to time constraints, Mr McHarg did invite one speaker to air his opinion and it was perhaps the most poignant comment of all.

Chairman of the community hall association, John Sillars explained his role in the organisation, having taken over the bookings for the hall on a ‘temporary’ basis in 2005 when the agreement was made that the committee would utilise the income from the hall to subsidise community groups and events, and a third of it would return to the council.

Subsidising the early years class fees, the annual Christmas party and a great many other events, John described the events as the ‘things that keep us close’ as a community.

Speaking convincingly and passionately about the hall and its use as a focal point for the community, John laboured the point by ending his comment with a simple but very well supported statement: ‘We want to keep this hall and we want to run it for the benefit of the community!’

The views gathered from the event will now join those from 14 other workshops held throughout North Ayrshire and will be compiled into a document which will help decide the future of local facilities in North Ayrshire.

Residents can also contribute their views online at www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/your-community/your-voice-your-view.aspx where more than 70 people have already contributed their opinions, among them Kirsty, who says: ‘Our local library in Brodick is important to me. A source of books, mini art exhibitions, local information, book bug, access to computers and is used by the Action on Hearing Loss Volunteers to provide a service to people on Arran. The service is already restricted to part time opening hours. Please do not reduce the opening times any further.’

A decision on the future of Arran Library, Brodick hall and other council subsidised centres will be made by council officials later this year after a final report has been submitted to them in November.